Sixty-six books, 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses, 783,137 words, 3,116,480 characters. For the last 18 months, artist Daniel Rapley has been writing the King James Bible by hand, on standard feint ruled notepaper, using a ballpoint pen.
I recently spoke with Michael Hall, who, as well as curating a new show celebrating the work of Stuart Sutcliffe has curated Covenant which features Daniel Rapley's Bible.
Why the Bible? Why not War and Peace?
There is no bigger convention than the Bible and Daniel's practice has developed through the questioning of these conventions. You don't need to have read the Bible to be able to read or relate to a piece of work that references it. A transcription of War and Peace or any other 'Bible sized' book, would require an informed audience as all you could buy into without knowledge of the book would be the labour intensive process in which it was made. The many layers of meaning attached to a response to the Bible encourage a more open interpretation where a specifically informed knowledge is not required to engage with the subject.
He took nearly two years to complete the work. That is an incredible feat of endurance. Contemporary art is often criticised for being easy.
I always think of the conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth when I hear someone say, "That's too easy" or "I could have done that!" Kosuth said that the difference between paintings by animals (notably monkeys but I know some talented elephants) and the work of an artist is intention. Intentionality can be easily overlooked in contemporary art. I believe anyone can make art but if works are made for no reason other than self-satisfaction then what's the point in sharing that with the world? Daniel's work allows you to buy into both the meaning and the manner in which that meaning has manifested itself. Actually... the labour is probably the last thing that you come across when viewing his other works in the show as it is masked by their minimalist form.
Daniel Rapley has only recently graduated - What do you see as his influences?
I've mentioned Conceptual Art already and it's a very obvious influence. Daniel also has a background in painting and a lot can be read into this. I know Willem de Kooning took two years to paint Woman 1. He would paint it and rub it all off until he eventually got it right. So although physically it took two years, you only saw the last hour of this struggle for the finished piece. Sic (Daniel's Bible) works in the same way, as you only see the first hour of Daniel's monumental task of transcribing the whole book (the work will be displayed in a case with only the top page on view).
In previous shows you've worked with established artists such as Bruce McLean and will be working with 21 artists on your Sutcliffe show. How has it been working with a recent graduate? (Rapley only graduated in Sept. 2011)
Artists, whether young or old, never lose the excitement of developing their concepts for a show. I am an artist, so approach curating as a mode of discussion with a single or group of artist to understand the reason a show and the work exists. The only thing Daniel lacked was the experience of developing a solo show. He had the foundations of a really strong exhibition when we first met but needed a slight nudge to refine it into a selection of works that could engage with one another concisely.
The Bible is an instantly iconic piece but there are several other works in the show. How do these 'compete'?
All the work relates you back to Sic (the 'Bible'), either through direct reference to the actual work or the belief systems contained within its pages. In Forty, like Sic, you only see the first of 40 identical framed drawings stacked against the wall; you have to believe the others are not just empty pages. Exigencies 1-7 are seven framed biographical stories that happened to the artist whilst transcribing the Bible (each laboriously hand drawn to look like printed text) whilst Preasentia is painted with the artist's blood, offering all manner of sacrificial and last supper scenarios.
Although they are different concepts, have you found any comparisons with Covenant and the Sutcliffe show.
In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe pays homage to a British icon on what is the 50th anniversary of his death. I suppose you could buy into the notion of celebrating a lost talent in Stuart Sutcliffe and exposing the new talent of Daniel Rapley, but for me, all shows need to be approached in a way that celebrates and heightens the reason for them. You are only ever as good as your last show and I want them all to be special, but you are only as good as the tools you use, and making sure an artist does justice to themselves through their work is key to any successful exhibition.